“Bali: Beats of Paradise” is a surprisingly funny and heartwarming music documentary, directed by Livi Zheng, Critically-Acclaimed Director and Producer, that chronicles Grammy Award Winning Artist Judith Hill (20 Feet from Stardom) and renowned Indonesian composer Nyoman Wenten, as they strive modernize Gamelan music via a project that Wenten hopes to be his Opus Magnum.
I’ll admit, prior to seeing the Bali: Beats of Paradise I knew nothing about Gamelan, derived from the Indonesian traditional music Galang. Truth be told, I thought watching this documentary would be like seeing the videos they forced us to watch in AP cultural studies class back in high school. Which is to say interesting, but nothing to write home about.
That was before I took a seat and had my mind blown away by this beautiful, and surprisingly touching, film chronicling the journey of unlikely collaborators brought together by a funk R&B track, a burning desire to reach 1 million views on YouTube all via a music video shot in one day.
The film centers around the warm and likable Nyoman Wenten, one of Bali’s most famous dancer’s and musicians. Wenten, who has performed in front of heads of state, royalty, and dictators alike has devoted the last 40 years of his life to teaching others in the Department of Ethnomusicology at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music and California Arts School of Music. His mission and goal in life is to share Gamelan and the beauty of his cultural with the world. And by most accounts he was successful, being integral in spreading Gamelan to 49 states in America. But on the eve of his retirement Wenten is wistful that while Gamelan has been embraced in the US, he longs to expand its reach around the world, and boost its waning appeal in his home country of Bali.
Enter Grammy award-winning artist Judith Hill who offers Wenten the perfect opportunity to change all that. Hill, who became smitten with the sound, feeling, and mystery of Gamelan music (via a music class in college), reaches out to Wenten to collaborate on a new funk inspired R&B track, titled “Queen of the Hill”.
Some of the movies most warm, genuine, and touching scenes focus on Hill and Wenten, working in the studio as the two musical talents merge their vision and sound into one, artfully blending funk and Gamelan music. The viewer both discovers and comes to deeply appreciate Gamelan as an art form. As Director Livi Zheng puts it “Gamelan encompasses the vibrancy and beauty of Bali…and everything in the culture is reflected in by the traditional sounds of Gamelan.” Zheng does a masterful job of decoding Gamelans mystical sound and bringing the nuance to the big-screen via Gamelan street performances where handmade percussion instruments and beautiful Balinese costumes visually stun the viewer.
Without giving away too much, the film takes a delightfully fun turn as the collaborators hatch plan to get to 1 million views on YouTube in honor of Wenten, who sees 1 million views as his opus magnum to the world, that will allow him to know that his life’s work has not been in vain.
To be sure, Bali: Beats of Paradise is a must see and helped me fall in love with something I never knew existed, but now, can never forget Gamelan music.